After years of shelling and immeasurable suffering, faint reminders of normal life are returning to the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo. Establishments in Syria's former economic powerhouse, kept open by a cautious peace and a desensitized population, have become the center of life for the city's residents. Sammy Ketz and local photographer Zein al-Rifai's recent dispatch for Agence France-Presse tells a story of a divided city where residents find rare comfort in music and dancing.
"In the beginning, we were paralyzed. We didn't dare go out," a man tells AFP in Aleppo's Mogambo neighbourhood. "We were afraid of everything: snipers, the sound of bombs. But now the fear has subsided. That explosion we just heard? No one reacted."
Since the conflict began in 2012, Aleppo's once vibrant array of cafes, restaurants, and discos has been whittled down to just a handful of businesses on either side of the city. The government-held side, a few dozen cafes and restaurants serve the city's brave residents, while on the more conservative rebel-held side, women travel with their husbands for more traditional entertainment. Now, Syrians in Aleppo spend as much time in cafes as they do at home; electricity and water shortages make businesses with generators far more attractive than the residents' homes.
It's not just cafes and restaurants that have returned either. In the city's government-controlled districts, a few laser-lit dance floors have carved out a home for themselves. One such nightclub, a disco in Shahba al-Sham at the former Meridien, is open every night of the week and hosts anywhere from 10 to 100 guests at a time.
"All my friends come here," a 29 year-old man named Hussam Shaaban says. "Before, we were afraid. But now we're used to it. Two days ago, a bomb fell near my house and I came here to forget the war."
In much of the world, music and dancing are associated with excess. In Aleppo, they're a faint relief from a long drawn out conflict.
Ziad Ramley is on Twitter: @ZiadRamley